Downloads for Hard Economic Times

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Free Office Suites and a No-Cost Operating System

Looking to buy a new copy of Microsoft Office? Be prepared to pay around $300 at a minimum; the cost increases depending on the mix of applications you want. Even upgrading from your old version of Office to a newer version will set you back around $220, possibly significantly more. The same holds true for a new operating system--you can expect to pay through the nose.

In this economy, that's a lot to spend, especially if you have alternatives that don't cost a red cent. Check out the following three freebies, and you'll be amazed at how powerful they are.

IBM Lotus Symphony

Once upon a time, in the deep, dark recesses of computer history, Lotus Symphony battled Microsoft Office in an attempt to become the dominant office-productivity suite.

That was then, this is now. Today, of course, Microsoft Office is ubiquitous, while Lotus Symphony is largely forgotten. That's too bad, because IBM Lotus Symphony, as it's now called, is quite a powerful office suite--and amazingly enough, IBM allows anyone to download and use it for free. So if you're looking for an excellent, free office suite, it's a great bet.

You'll probably be quite surprised at what you find when you install it: a slick, sophisticated suite with all the bells and whistles, including a very elegant interface. Documents open in their own tabs, so you can have word processing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets all accessible in the same program at the same time in the same interface. The suite creates and opens documents in the Open Document Format standard, as well as in Microsoft Office file formats, although not the newest Office formats. (Most people, however, don't use those new formats, so it likely won't be a problem for you.)

Download IBM Lotus Symphony | Price: Free

OpenOffice.Org

This free office-productivity suite is one of the best software deals of all time. It includes a fully featured word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a graphics program, a drawing program, and a database.

You may think that because OpenOffice.org is free, it's anemic or difficult to use. Nothing could be further from the truth. It does just about everything Microsoft Office does, including opening and saving files in Office file formats, as well as many others.

It does have a few minor drawbacks. The interface isn't as slick as that of the latest Office--for example, it doesn't have anything like the new Ribbon. (Of course, some people hate the Ribbon, and will be happy to hear that OpenOffice lacks a counterpart.) And you won't be able to collaborate using Word markup.

Apart from those issues, though, this suite has everything--except a price tag.

Download OpenOffice | Price: Free

Wubi

Tired of using the same old operating system? Join the club. If you're like many people, after several years of using an OS, you'd like to get a new one. More often than not, though, that means not just spending several hundred dollars on a new operating system but also buying new hardware to run it, or possibly investing in an entirely new PC.

Here's a better solution: Use the free Wubi to install a dual-boot version of Ubuntu Linux on your PC. That way you can boot either into your existing version of Windows or into the free Ubuntu Linux. You won't have to bother with hacking around in partitions, bootloaders, special drivers, or any other kind of messiness. It installs just like any piece of Windows software.

When your PC starts up, simply choose to boot into Windows or Linux. When you feel the need for a change, boot into Linux, and play with all of its new software toys--they're all free too, of course. This is the best way to get a new operating system without paying a penny for hardware or software.

Download Wubi | Price: Free

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